The Iranian Christian pastor who became an international symbol of the fight for religious freedom when he was sentenced to death for apostasy, and then acquitted, has now been charged again – this time with "acting against national security".
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was summonsed to court in Iran and given just one week to find bail of $33,000 or be arrested, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
He was accused of being a Zionist and told he was banned from evangelism.
He and his wife Tina were also both arrested last May when Iranian security staff raided their home among 10 other Christian homes they targeted in Rasht. The Nadarkhanis were released then but three members of their congregation, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, were forced themselves to post bail of $33,000 to secure their release.
The three men are yet to be informed of the charges levelled against them.
Pastor Nardarkhani was initially arrested in 2009. He had challenged the Muslim monopoly on religious education for children.Related
He was charged with apostasy and sentenced to death in 2010 then released two years later after his acquittal for apostasy but found guilty of evangelising. He returned to prison to complete his sentence and was released again in 2013.
Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity, said: "It is deeply troubling to hear of the renewed harassment of Pastor Nardarkhani.
"The national security charges levelled against him are spurious and an indication that the authorities persist in criminalising the Christian community for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. We urge the Iranian government to dismiss the charges against him and to cancel any pending charges against Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie.
"The international community must press the Government of Iran to uphold its obligations to respect the right of its citizens to freedom of religion or belief, as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is signatory, and in Iran's own constitution."
Meanwhile, according to Mohabat News, another Christian, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, who is serving four years in prison and is 20 days into a hunger strike, has had her request for release on health grounds turned down by an Iranian court.
A convert from Islam, she was arrested in connection with her work at an orphanage alongside Saeed Abedini, who was also imprisoned but released in January this year.
A member of the Zargaran family told Mohabat News: "Maryam hasn't left her bed in four days. She is burning with fever and has been on hunger strike to raise her protest against prison authorities' indifference toward her health. She is suffering from serious health issues. Before going on hunger strike, she had lost 25kg and her health issues had intensified. Authorities do not show the slightest concern over Maryam's health. In addition, she is suffering from depression and takes medication for it."